From nursing revolt to Hollywood glamour: Glasgow hospital's rich history

Ruchill Hospital <i>(Image: Glasgow City Archives)</i>
Ruchill Hospital (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

UNDER-resourced and overcrowded, with staff under pressure and stretched to the limit – it could be any NHS hospital of today…

These claims were being made in 1907, however, by nursing staff at Glasgow’s Ruchill Hospital for infectious diseases.

In the second half of the 19th century, public health was a discrete function of Glasgow’s municipal government, leading to the evolution of public health administration within the city.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

A major priority was the reduction in deaths from infectious diseases, leading to the council’s expansion of hospital provision for the treatment of fever cases.

The first municipal fever hospital was opened in 1865 in Parliamentary Road, but it closed in 1901. In 1870, Belvidere opened as an infectious diseases hospital, with further building work and extensions taking place in 1901.

Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital, 1922
Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital, 1922

However, the municipal authority was dealing with the rapid growth of Glasgow’s population, and the need for larger and improved facilities to treat those with infectious diseases, who had no adequate accommodation in their own homes.

In 1891, Glasgow’s boundaries were extended to include Ruchill and in 1892 the council purchased 91 acres of the land to lay out a public park and build a hospital for infectious diseases.

Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital, 1922
Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital, 1922

The site was selected for its accessibility from numerous districts occupied by an ever-increasing working-class population. Its altitude and the nearby park brought the benefits of as much free air and sunshine as was possible in an industrial neighbourhood.

In addition, the nearby public park guaranteed permanent free space on the west side of the hospital, and its other boundaries were generous enough to prevent undue encroachment of buildings.


READ NEXT: First look at Two Doors Down star in 'terrifying' new role


It was AB McDonald, the City Engineer, who designed Ruchill Hospital. He drew on experience gained from the earlier construction of Belvidere Hospital. He investigated all its features and identified required improvements, and also studied other hospitals across the UK.

Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital
Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital

Ruchill Hospital included 34 distinct blocks of buildings, 16 of which were for the reception of patients. The 12 largest pavilions housed 30 patients, with the four smaller housing 20, allowing for 440 patients.

The patients’ pavilions were particularly designed to offer high standards of ventilation and sanitary arrangements. These met the approval of those specialists who examined them.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

A distinctive feature was the provision of a veranda at the south gable of each pavilion to allow the patients to sun themselves (or as much they could do in Glasgow).

Bedrooms were provided for 200 nurses, and ample provision was made for the medical superintendent and the matron, and for other professional staff.

Lighting across the establishment was supplied by electricity. Temperature was regulated by the circulation of hot water, with open fires also being provided in the pavilions and in some dormitories.

Even before the site’s purchase a joint report by the Medical Officer of Health and the City Engineer highlighted that the elevated level of the upper part of the site made it necessary to provide storage for the water supply to the hospital.


READ NEXT: Grim tale of riots and death rooted in history of Glasgow's Shawfield


Arrangements for this purpose were installed in a water tower, which was the most conspicuous feature of the central group of buildings.

The hospital was opened in 1900 by the HRH the Princess Christian (daughter of Queen Victoria) to much acclaim.

In December 1907, a hint of trouble among the nursing staff at Ruchill came in the form of a letter signed by four of the assistant physicians, directing attention to the state of nursing conditions in the hospital.

In February 1908, a public inquiry was heard at the Burgh Court into the complaints of overcrowding and understaffing at the hospital and on its administration and management. The Inquiry found conclusive evidence of overcrowding with which no staff could be expected to cope.

Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital
Glasgow Times: Ruchill Hospital

By 1915 272 beds were added for TB (tuberculosis) and It had 1000 beds when it was absorbed within the NHS in 1948.

In 1955, it welcomed a visit from The Mark of Zorro star, Hollywood A-lister Tyrone Power, who was presenting the hospital with a specialist £800 bath, paid for by the Roosevelt Memorial (Polio) Fund, a voluntary Scottish-American organisation which funded the after-care of polio patients.

The hospital eventually closed in 1998.